Jury says Nicolas Cruz should not get the death penalty for the murder of 17 students and staff at US high school.
A Florida jury has recommended that a gunman who killed 17 people in a 2018 school shooting be spared the death penalty and instead be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Nikolas Cruz, now 24, pleaded guilty late last year to premeditated murder for the deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. His sentencing trial lasted for more than three months as the jury heard arguments for and against recommending the death penalty.
Jurors determined that in each of the 17 murders, mitigating circumstances outweighed aggravating factors, and they concluded on Thursday that the death penalty was not supported.
The recommendation brings an end to a fraught trial that began in July, during which members of the jury were exposed to harrowing pieces of evidence, including graphic videos, photos, testimony from victims’ families and a tour to visit the blood-spattered building where the shooting took place.
The February 14, 2018, shooting was a devastating reminder of the spectre of gun violence in the United States and renewed a contentious debate over proposed solutions to staunch the epidemic of school shootings unique to the US. A final verdict on sentencing will be decided by a judge on November 1.
Cruz killed 17 people and wounded 17 in seven minutes, shooting students and staff in the school’s hallways, classrooms and grounds. He fled the scene, blending in among other students and was arrested later that same day.
Cruz’s defence never contested the fact that he carried out a horrific crime but maintained that other factors such as his biological mother’s substance abuse during pregnancy should be considered in the sentencing.
Prosecutors countered that Cruz planned the “systematic massacre” months in advance and had demonstrated that he did not suffer from serious neurological issues when he smoothly operated and reloaded his gun during the massacre.
Cruz had previously apologised for his crimes and asked that he be given life in prison without the possibility of parole. Under Florida law, the jury must unanimously recommend the death penalty for it to be considered in sentencing.
Some family members of those killed and injured left the court sobbing after hearing the jury’s decisions.
Since Cruz’s crime, school shootings have continued their role as a grim and tragically common feature of life in the US.
In May, a shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 children and two teachers. After an outpouring of grief and anger, President Joe Biden signed a gun reform bill into law in June.
While the bill was a rare example of bipartisan gun legislation, critics say they believe it does not come close to addressing the scope of US gun violence.
Cruz is a rare example of a school shooter who has lived to be punished for his crimes. Nine other perpetrators of shootings that killed 17 or more people died by suicide or in shootouts with law enforcement during or after their attacks.